Setting aplan of how to reach your promotional goals can be a very intimidating process.There is a multitude of information and it can be overwhelming. I encouragepromotional candidates to look at their future exam through a different set ofglasses, those of the person creating the exam. Becomethe Test Maker One of my favorite sayings is, Become the test maker, not the test taker. It isimportant to understand that when an exam is created the designers meet withfire administration and ask what they would like to see in an exam. The firechief meets with the exam developer and expresses his or her wishes.If youwere writing the exam, what would see as important information (become the testmaker)? As a general rule, exams are very predictable. How often have youwalked out of an exam and said, That wasn’t that hard, I should have donebetter, or, I wished I would have studied the right stuff. Learn thePosition While it is not necessary to become a subject matter expert ineach of the following areas, serious candidates should have a thorough workingknowledge of each one. Remember that you are NOT studying tobeat the exam, rather to learn the position. A candidate who has covered all of his or her bases during the study period will usually performwell once awarded the position. Nobody aspires to be appointed to a position and not be competent to function in the role. Candidates should use the following as a check list to monitor their progress. All types of fires: •Residential • High rise • Strip malls • Center hallway and garden style apartments •Commercial (NFPA 704 Diamond) • Tanker and refineries • Wildland Tactical Considerations • Develop templates for every major size up potential • Develop a system of tracking resources • Think big lines, multiple supply lines, (save a spot for the truck) • Have a plan for RIC deployment(including tactical frequencies and a leader) • Have a plan for what to do when you locate a victim • Don’t be afraid to call for multiple alarms • Don’t forget outside agencies • Have a plan for getting things back to normal Candidates should have a plan to handle: 1. Weapons of Mass Destruction2. Hazardous Materials spills 3. Multi-casualty incidents 4. Aircraft emergencies 5. Marine firefighting 6. Refineries Administrative • Knowthe department’s policies and procedures •Understand the departments progressive discipline system (know how to conduct acounseling session using the 8 step process) • Have aplan to: o Address your new crew (conduct a meeting) o Train a probationary firefighter o Coach, mentor, and train your crew o Document a substandard employee • Whatwould you do IF: o Firefighter stuck with a needle o Firefighter under the influence o Firefighters involved in a fight in thestation o Unmotivated firefighter o Firefighter habitually late o Firefighter with a poor attitude •Understand the injury on duty policy and how a firefighter returns to dutyfollowing injuryOral Interview • Knowthe job for which you are applying • Find a role model who can teach you the idiosyncrasies of the position • Develop thoughts and ideas about current events • Understand the daylight positions The term “Assessment Center” often sends promotional candidatesinto frenzy. It is unfamiliar to many people and as a result their alreadyincreased anxiety over the promotional process is heightened. The purpose ofthis article is to shed some light on the process. No department wants to havequality candidates get lost in the testing process, rather it’s an opportunityfor those who have prepared for the position be rewarded for their efforts. I don’t believe in “having a bad day.” Ibelieve that those who have not prepared for the position are identified duringthe testing process. I do not advocate studying for the exam, I believe instudying for the position.“AssessmentCenter” is a fancy way to refer to a series of examinations. Some commoncomponents of an assessment center are:• Tactical Scenario (often called a job simulation exercise)• Oral Interview• Employee Counseling Session• Oral Presentation (more information in Step 3)• In-Basket Exercise Ofcourse, your promotional examination may include all, or some, of the eventslisted above. Each fire agency has the choice of what they want to include intheir testing process.Five Great Ways to Prepare• Read fire department publications and internet chat boards to stay up on current events• Become involved in the department committees• Be familiar with the problems facing your department and the fire service• Understand the rules to the testing process• Prepare for EACH part of the process early, NOTafter the previous phase is complete
THE INTERVIEWOnce the qualifiedcandidates have been identified and the selection committee has been chosen,interview dates are set. The committee chair sets candidates’ interview times.Although candidates may reschedule individual interview times, the candidate isresponsible for making the necessary arrangements and for alerting the chair toany changes. Although this can be difficult, it also may demonstrate thefirefighter’s organizational skills and willingness to invest his time in theprocess.The interviews areconducted in four sections, which may or may not be held at the same time.Background. The first partof the interview process focuses on the candidate’s background, which is hisopportunity to highlight his training, education, and experience and is thecandidate’s best chance to explain why he should be promoted. Conversely, theinterviewers will try to explore, and even exploit, the candidate’s historicalweaknesses. Examples of typical background questions include the following:• Why should you getthe job?• What is your worstor weakest characteristic?• How does thisnegative characteristic affect your performance?• How are youperceived by your fellow firefighters?• Are there anynegative perceptions? If so, what are they?• What is your weakestarea-education or experience?• Which trait is moreimportant for success as a lieutenant in this department?Safety. Thesecond oral interview section focuses on safety issues; questions are typicallytaken from fire service textbooks.1Candidates are informed in advance of whichtextbooks will be used, so that they can read and review the material. Usingbooks as a reference/resource for the oral questioning also provides someobjectivity in rating the quality of the interviewee’s answers.Issues discussedinclude rollover, flashover, backdraft, building collapse causes andindicators, utility hazards and control, and residential/commercial heating andelectrical system hazards. Many times, this is an area in which a detailedquestion relating to a seemingly remote point will be asked. Although thecandidate may consider the question trivial, such questions are asked becauseknowledge of the answer and subject matter demonstrates the firefighter’sawareness of facts that may keep the entire crew safe on the fireground.Specific examples of such questions include the following:• Should a collapsedanger zone extend all the way around a Type 5 constructed building? Explainyour answer or reasoning.• Under whatcircumstance is it permissible for a fire crew to stop a natural gas leak in aplastic pipe? (Note: This tactic should be avoided, since it may result in anexplosion.)Operations. The third examsection concerns operational issues. The candidate is often kept under constantpressure in this part of the interview to see how well he performs underadverse conditions. Originally, my department used scenarios that we read tothe candidate. In the last promotional exam, we used computer-generated models,complete with moving fire and smoke, to test the candidate’s ability to providea size-up, to discuss particular fireground strategies, and to initiatetactics. A wide variety of buildings with different fire and smoke scenarioscan be used; with the proper computer training program, buildings in your owntown can be used for this part of the interview. Response ratings are based oninformation contained within fire service textbooks relating to strategy andtactics, which again lends objectivity to the grading process.In addition to thescenario-based questions, short tactical questions are appropriate during thissection. Although these questions require short responses, they test thefirefighter’s knowledge of operational issues that a company officer may face.Such questions include the following:• What are theappropriate strategy and tactics when encountering a cloud of vaporized oil andair, heated above flash point, within a residence (known as “the white ghost”)?• What are theappropriate strategy and tactics for a natural gas leak occurring on theinterior of a residential structure?• Explain thedifference between venting for life and venting for fire.• Why should a secondhoseline follow the path of the first hoseline?Questions regarding the candidate’s knowledge of the department’sSOPs are also asked. They relate to many different subject areas, includingEMS, hazardous materials, motor vehicle accidents, and structural fireresponses. Some departments may also want to add a component to the examthat uses actual field efficiencies. Some departments have simulated Maydayexams or low-air scenarios to determine the candidate’s ability to operate inthe field under pressure.Human relations. The promotional exam’s final section teststhe candidate’s ability to handle personnel issues. More recently, this sectionhas received greater emphasis and weight; most problems occurring within thefirehouse relate to human relations, not operational issues. Often, if thecompany officer is a good problem solver, he will resolve issues early and notallow them to detract from the company’s efficiency. If the company officer isa good motivator, he will be able to lead members toward training and operationalgoals. It is also much easier for a lieutenant or captain to educate himselfabout firefighting operations than it is to learn how to deal with otherpeople. After all, the officer has been interacting with other people usuallyfor more than 20 years of his life. Old habits are not broken easily, and it isoften easier to train or retrain the officer with respect to operationalissues.Personnel issuequestions can vary greatly; real world examples are used often. Examples ofpersonnel questions candidates are asked include the following:• If you disagree with a chief officer’s decision regarding anadministrative personnel matter, how would you handle that disagreement?• You have justdirected a member of your station/company to complete a work assignment at thestation. In front of other firefighters, this firefighter refuses to complywith your directive. This is not the first time that this person has refused tocomply with a directive. The other station firefighters are watching you to seewhat action you will take. What do you do?• A firefighter in the stationreports that another member of your crew, outside your presence, made asexist/discriminatory comment directly to a member of an independent ambulancecrew. How do you handle this situation?In the finalpromotional exam section, one panel member chose to ask questions regarding thecandidate’s knowledge of the department’s history and tradition. The belief wasthat each candidate should be familiar with these issues, and, if not, the candidatewas pushed to see how well he would function under pressure regarding subjectareas not anticipated as part of the exam.
The tacticalscene scenario can be one major event, a series of smaller events, or acombination of all of the above. It can be interactive or non-interactive. Inan interactive scenario a candidate is given a radio and is expected to give onscene report (size up), assume command, name the location of the command post,request resources, and make assignments as he or she would on the fire ground.The candidate is expected to react to information that is provided during theexam. It is common to have “developments” that occur during the course of theincident. The candidate is expected to take appropriate actions when adevelopment occurs. An example of his would be:Development – “IC from Interior Division, we have located a victim”Expected action – IC,I understand that you have located a victim. Bring him out the front door and Iwill have a medical group standing by. Engine 1, IC, You are Medical Group supervisor. Interior isbringing a victim to the front door. Your objective is to receive and treat thevictim. I am assigning you squad 3. Squad 3, IC, I am assigning youto Medical Group. Set up in front of the building. You have a victim comingyour way.Interactivetacticals are becoming less common because of the potential for a lack ofconsistency. The person on the other end of the radio has a script he or she isexpected to follow. Since you cannot possibly predict everything that thecandidate will say, it is impossible to maintain consistency.Non-interactivetactical scenarios are much more common. These enable the raters theopportunity to see the candidate in greater detail. I believe non-interactivetactical favors the prepared candidate since there is so much more down time.The prepared candidate takes this opportunity to showcase his or her knowledge.Here is an example:Candidate– I would assign engine 1 as division two and give him benchmarks of what Iwanted accomplished. It would sound like this:Engine 1, IC, lay a supplyline. I am assigning you to Division 2. Give me an All Clear on Primary Searchand knock down the fire on the second floor. My expectations are that theofficer on Engine 1 would lay in from a hydrant, stretch a line to the 2ndfloor and begin a primary search. He would extinguish any fire, but again heknows his number one objective is to give me an “All Clear” on the primarysearch.As youcan see the non-interactive tactical gives the prepared candidate anopportunity to express his or her thoughts.
Mini-tacticals Another component of the tactical scene exercise are the mini-tacticals. While the major tactical scenario may last from beginning to culmination of an incident, these are a series of relatively short, quick hitting, job-related exercises. These could be related to operational issues or a current policy or procedure.Here is an example:You are a captain of an engine company who has been dispatched to a structure with numerous calls and a report of people trapped. It’s in your first due. As your engineer pulls out of the station he strikes a car. What would you do and why?Here is a checklist of what the evaluators expect: • I would immediately notify dispatch that we have been involved in a traffic accident and have them replace us with another engine. I would ensure that the Battalion Chief knew we were no longer responding (this is particularly true if your department dispatches on one channel and has a separate tactical frequency). • I would check the condition of my firefighters and the condition of the people in the other vehicle. • I would request PD for traffic control and fire and EMS units for the injured. • I would ensure my uninjured firefighters or I were treating any victims. • I would have my firefighters place out road cones or flares to prevent a second accident. • After the injured were treated, I would remind my firefighters not to admit fault or make statements to anyone. • I would get names and contact information of any witnesses. • I would make sure the appropriate vehicle accident and injury paperwork was completed. • I would make sure the fire chief and city attorney were notified. • I would make sure that the families of any injured firefighters were notified. • If necessary, I would facilitate critical incident stress debriefing • I would log it in the station logbook.
Your oral presentation is an important part of the promotion assessment. Here’s a quick and dirty list of possible scenarios you should have nailed down before you are presented with the real deal. It is important to speak clearly, initiate eye contact with your audience, and speak genuinely and concisely. Don’t be afraid to jot down notes, there’s nothing worse than sitting down after a speech and feeling like you forgot something. Practice each one in front of peers or family and be sure to time yourself. Emergency Response GuidebookYou are a Captain of an Engine company. Your assignment is to teach the new firefighter how to use the Emergency Response guidebook. You have been provided with a copy of the book.You have 15 minutes to prepare a 5 minute presentation on how to properly use the guide book.Fire Extinguishers You are a Captain of an Engine company. Your assignment is to teach the new firefighter how to use a fire extinguisher. You have been provided with a fire extinguisher.You have 15 minutes to prepare a 5 minute presentation on how to properly use the guide book.Addressing Your New Crew You are a new Captain. You are addressing your crew for the first time. You have 15 minutes to prepare a 5 minute presentation to your crew.The Importance of Brush ClearanceYou are assigned by the Battalion Chief to make a presentation to the local neighborhood watch group about the importance of brush clearance.You have 15 minutes to prepare a 5 minute presentation to the panel.The Importance of Fire Prevention InspectionsYou are a new Captain who has been invited by the Chamber of Commerce to make a presentation about the importance of Fire Prevention inspections.You have 15 minutes to prepare a 5 minute presentation to the panel.Customer ServiceYou are a new Captain. You have 15 minutes to prepare a 5 minute presentation to your crew about the importance of customer service.
It is important that you prepare questions you might be asked. Here are a few samples for Fire Captain. Type your answers into the text boxes. When you’re done, click “Print This Page” at the bottom, and print your answers for reference. (Note: if your answer has exceeded the size of the box, only the portion showing will print.)Interview Questions for Fire Captain1. Please describe your education, training, and experience as it relates to the position of Fire Captain.Type your answer here. 2. How do you view the role of a Fire Captain? Type your answer here. 3. If promoted to Fire Captain, what will you do to prevent harassment in the fire station? Type your answer here. 4. What do you see as the greatest problem facing the San Diego Fire and Rescue department?Type your answer here. 5. Please take a few minutes and outline the first meeting you would have with your crew. What issues would you discuss? Type your answer here. 6. Describe your plan to train a probationary firefighter. Type your answer here. 7. Describe the levels of discipline that a Captain may administer, and where the paperwork is to be filed in each example. Type your answer here. 8. How would you manage an unmotivated firefighter? Type your answer here. 9. You are a new Captain. You have been directed to plan a multicompany drill for your Battalion. What topic would you choose and how would you coordinate the training. Type your answer here. 10. Describe your view of discipline. Type your answer here. 11. You are a new Captain filling in for a Captain who is on vacation. You review the fire prevention records and find that the files are unorganized and the crew is well behind schedule on their inspections. You know this is against the department policy. How would you handle this situation? Would you report this to your Battalion Chief? Type your answer here. 12. A firefighter on your crew receives a needle stick from a transient patient. Describe your actions. Type your answer here. 13. We have covered everything we would like to. Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
TheProcessManydepartments elect to use an outside consultant to administer their exam andhave their candidates evaluated by outside fire department raters. The purposeof external evaluators is to lessen the chance of favoritism, which in turnlessens the chance the exam, will be protested by an unhappy candidate. Manyagencies do not allow the candidates to interact with the raters. Some agenciesallow the candidates to greet the evaluators, but require them to introduceonly by using their assigned candidate number. Whichever the case, theconsultant’s goal is to reduce the chance of biased rating.Related Resources· Firefighter EducationalOpportunities· FireLink Job Search· Discuss Your Career with OtherFirefightersThe fire chief usually greets the raters. He or she will providesome background about the department and answer any department-relatedquestions. He will share any particular challenges currently being experiencedby the department and share his vision for the future. The fire chief willalways make one thing clear to the raters: if the candidate is not ready to assume the position tomorrow,they are to be scored in a way that reflects this.Performingon game day is your biggest challenge. I encourage each candidate to take thetime he or she would have invested in researching the exam and put it intostudying his or her own department’s policies and procedures.Whetherit is a private consultant or an in-house person who is assigned to write thepromotional exam, the process is usually the same. A committee is formed andthey meet with the fire chief. The fire chief will explain what he is lookingfor in the group to be promoted. This will include any current events in thefire service as well as political and/or social events that may be impactingthe fire service. For example, if the department has had a challenge withracial relations a wise candidate would have a plan on how he or she couldimprove them. If the department had a fire that did not go as planned I wouldexpect to see a similar event on the tactical portion of the exam. If thedepartment has a problem with firefighters following the proper procedures whenreturning to work following an injury, I would expect an interview questionregarding the injury procedures.Recap: Parts of Assessment Centers• Tactical Scene Scenarios/Mini-tacticals• Oral Interview• Employee Counseling• In-Basket ExerciseOne of the most common scenarios that come to mind is with theRapid Intervention Crew (RIC). I understandthat in different parts of the country it is called Rapid Intervention Team.For the purpose of this article I will refer to it as RIC. We will give you a scenario that requires a lot of resourcesbe committed early in the incident. The OSHA policy states that anytime firefighters arecommitted in an environment that is determined to have immediate danger to lifeand/or health (IDLH) a RIC team mustbe established. Candidates struggle with the idea of not putting enough hoselines into effect quickly enough. To compensate for this they elect to forego RIC andassign a company to put in an additional hose line. As a chief officer who hasmanaged a few fires, I understand the desire to get water on the fire. I alsobelieve that the RIC policy was written for a reason. Committingfirefighters to an IDLH without a rescue problem is a clear violationof the policy. More importantly, it completely goes against our number onerule, firefighter safety! This is an automatic failure of the tactical.
The oral presentations are probably the most overlooked part of the promotional exam. This is ironic because studies show that our greatest fear is to speak in front of a group. From the department’s perspective it is important to promote people who can speak in front of a group. The higher the rank, the more public speaking you will be expected to do. I was recently involved in a Battalion Chiefs exam where five out of 12 candidates failed the oral presentation. It was very unfortunate because several of them would have been excellent fire ground commanders. While commanding an incident is a extremely important, as a chief officer I find myself in front of a group as often as I run a major incident.Candidates will be expected to follow the rules of speaking in front of a group. These include introducing yourself, explaining the reason for the meeting, motivating the audience as to why it is important for them to embrace what you have to say, delivering the sustenance of your presentation, summarizing your presentation, and leaving time at the end for questions. Most oral presentation exercises are timed. It is up to the candidate to manage his or her time. The candidate should note the time the exercise culminates so he can allow enough time to complete it. Once the time has expired, the candidates will be asked to stop speaking regardless of where they is in their presentation.The most common mistake in an oral presentation is trying to write everything in paragraph form. It’s painful to watch a candidate try to read the entire presentation to the raters. Candidates who are able to speak to bullet points will fare much better than those who try to read what they have written. Teachers and people who have previous experience speaking in public usually excel in this area. The best way to prepare for this exercise is to practice with a topic, have a set amount of time to prepare a lecture, and present the topic to an audience. Using a video camera is the best way to critique oneself.You will be amazed at what you see.
One of the most challenging parts of any supervisor’s job is dealing with employees. In the fire service we are particularly poor at imposing discipline on our members. Since we live, eat, sleep and work together for long periods of time, supervisors are reluctant to address poor performance. It is important to remember that the fire department is held to the same city policies as gas, water and police departments. These departments are very thorough when it comes to addressing an employee who is lacking in his or her performance. We on the other hand are not.It is important to know you audience (raters). Regardless where they are from, chief officers expect aspiring officers to coach, counsel, and document substandard performance. It is imperative that you use the 8-step process to handle a troubled employee.
The in-basket exercise has been around forever and is one of my favorites. A candidate is given a list of items that must be addressed within a certain time frame. He or she is asked to prioritize the items and justify his reasons to the panel. It’s up to the candidate to determine what is important, and what is urgent. The exercise gives the department a snapshot of the candidate’s ability to perform the administrative functions of the position. While the Operational portion of the Battalion Chief, Captain, or Lieutenant’s position is very important, so too is the administrative component. This exercise outlines time management, writing, and setting priorities.Here is an example of a simple in-basket exercise:You will have 30 minutes to address the following items and explain your reasoning to the panel. Please place them in order of importance and be prepared to discuss your rationale with your raters.It is 0800. Official shift change occurs at 0745.Test yourself: Rearrange the numbers in the boxes according to priorities.• 1. You have battalion inspection at 11AM today. • 2. The firefighter assigned to your crew approaches you and informs you that he cannot locate his gloves. • 3. The Battalion Chief calls you to say there has been a complaint about the way your paramedics were driving. • 4. There is a message from Mr. Robert Jones regarding a recent fire prevention inspection. • 5. The engineer approaches you and says there is a nail in one of the inside rear dual tires. • 6. A paramedic assigned to your crew approaches you and says he is too hung over to work and asks to be placed off duty on sick leave. • 7. You have a message to call Mrs. Smith about speaking to her group about fire safety. • 8. The paramedics are scheduled to have a ride along from 0800 to 1700. • 9. A school tour is scheduled at 1115. ANSWERSHere is an example of how to prioritize and justify the above list (check it against your answers):Number 1. The engineer approaches you and says there is a nail in one of the inside rear dual tires. I would prioritize this as number one as it affects our operational readiness. Just because there is a nail in the tire does not mean that I would take the engine out of service. It may be a short nail and may not have punctured the tire. I want to know if the air pressure is low. Is it leaking? I would instruct him to use a soap and water solution and determine it is leaking. If the tire pressure is low, I will ask him if he is comfortable driving the rig to the shop. If not, I will instruct him to call the mobile mechanic. He will provide the correct tire size to ensure the mechanic brings the proper size tire. I f the tire is low, and the rig is unable to respond, I will call dispatch and advise them of the situation. I will ask them to notify the Battalion Chief.Number 2. A paramedic assigned to your crew approaches you and says he is too hung over to work and asks to be placed off duty on sick leave. I would advise the paramedic to stay put and I would attempt to catch one of the off-going paramedics to temporarily ensure my staffing. Once I have staffed the rig, I would notify the staffing pool of my need for a paramedic. I would not allow the off-going paramedic to leave the station, as I am concerned that if he is too impaired to work, he is too impaired to drive home in his private vehicle. This would be a liability to the fire department. I would evaluate the paramedic to see if he is still under the influence. At minimum he will be counseled for showing up to work unfit for duty. This has impacted our operational readiness.Number 3. The firefighter assigned to your crew approaches you and informs you that he cannot locate his gloves. I would instruct the firefighter to borrow a pair of gloves from another firefighter. He is to leave a note on the firefighter’s turnouts so the other firefighter is not caught without his gloves. In addition, he is to fill out a lost property report and order a new pair of gloves. Lastly, I will coach and mentor him to take the initiative to do all of the above before coming to me to solve his problem.Number 4. The paramedics are scheduled to have a ride along from 0800 to 1700. I would call the paramedics to the office and notify them of the ride along and make certain that they have the proper forms filled out.Number 5. You have battalion inspection at 11AM today. I would call the Battalion Chief and ask permission to reschedule the inspection for the afternoon informing him that I had a school tour set up for the same time. While I was on the phone with the BC, I would let him know that I had several pending issues. First and foremost the engine may have to be put out of service (pending the answer from the engineer), I would get the information regarding the citizen complaint about the paramedics driving.Number 6. A school tour is scheduled at 1115.I would inform the crew that the station inspection had been rescheduled for the afternoon and that we had a school tour at 1115.Number 7. The Battalion Chief calls you to say there has been a complaint about the way your paramedics were driving. I would call the person who had a complaint about the Paramedic’s driving and get the facts of when and where the issue had occurred. I would assure him that I would look into the issue and would call him back after I speak to the paramedic. I would not give him the results of my investigation, as personnel issues are confidential. I would then conduct a fact-finding interview with the paramedics.Number 8. There is a message from Mr. Robert Jones regarding a recent fire prevention inspection.I would review the fire prevention record regarding 1234 Main Street. I would review the codes relating to the infraction he was given and return Mr. Jones’ call.Number 9. You have a message to call Mrs. Smith about speaking to her group about fire safety. I would return Mrs. Smith’s call regarding the fire safety lecture and set a time we could speak to her group